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Reform-Minded Attorney Likely to Succeed John Hamasaki on SF Police Commission

Written by Michael BarbaPublished Apr. 04, 2022 • 1:55pm
Kevin Michael Benedicto speaks to a Board of Supervisors committee. | Screenshot of SFGovTV meeting

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San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will likely choose an attorney with experience working on police reform in the city to succeed outgoing Police Commissioner John Hamasaki.

Hamasaki, a criminal defense attorney who is stepping down from the commission at the end of his term April 30, has been the most incendiary member of the oversight panel since the Board of Supervisors first appointed him to the position in 2018.

The board’s Rules Committee on Monday picked Kevin Michael Benedicto, a member of the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Criminal Justice Task Force, as his likely successor. Benedicto’s application will now be forwarded to the full Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

The committee chose Benedicto out of a small pool of applicants that included police reform advocate Kit Hodge and Terence Tracy, a retired law enforcement officer and veteran of the California Highway Patrol. Hodge is a frequent public commenter at the Police Commission who has been pushing police to reduce racial disparities.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, a Rules Committee member, said he hoped Benedicto would strike a balance between reforming the police and supporting officers.

“We as a city have work to do to demonstrate that we are going to move toward progressive policing, and we are also going to support our officers and we want officers from diverse backgrounds joining our department,” Mandelman said. “I think Mr. Benedicto gets that.”

Benedicto, a San Francisco resident of Filipino and Chinese descent, is an associate at the law firm Morgan Lewis and Bockius.

Benedicto has worked on police reform in San Francisco since serving as pro bono counsel to the blue ribbon panel that former District Attorney George Gascón assembled in 2015 in response to a group of officers being caught exchanging racist text messages.

The following year, Benedicto joined the Bar Association’s task force and helped revise the landmark use-of-force policy that the San Francisco Police Department adopted to bar officers from shooting at moving vehicles and using the carotid restraint.

If appointed, Benedicto told the committee he would seek to provide “effective, pragmatic and progressive oversight and direction” to the department.

His application comes at a turbulent time for police in San Francisco.

In recent months, Police Chief Bill Scott has faced criticism for threatening to withdraw from a reform agreement with District Attorney Chesa Boudin that put the prosecutor’s office in charge of the criminal investigations into police shootings and other serious incidents in the city. The department also drew national scrutiny after Boudin revealed that police used DNA from a sexual assault victim to identify and arrest her in connection with an unrelated crime.

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At the same time, the department is dealing with low morale among officers and a severe staffing shortage brought on by a wave of retirements as well as recruiting issues.

Benedicto called Chief Scott’s decision to withdraw from the reform agreement “disappointing.” The chief is currently renegotiating terms of the deal with Boudin.

By focusing on reform and reducing mistrust between the police and the community, Benedicto said he hoped the department could attract more people to become officers. In the short term, Benedicto said the department should bolster its recruitment efforts and adjust salaries.

Benedicto said he hoped to work collaboratively on reform with the department and its officers.

“It’s important that the department and, particularly, the command staff and rank-and-file officers see themselves as partners in the reform process,” he said, “and not as reform being forced on them.”

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Michael Barba can be reached at [email protected]




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